Arrival (2016)

Cast includes: Amy Adams (America Hustle), Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland)
Director: Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Incendies)
Genre: Science Fiction | Drama | Romance (116 minutes)

Huffington Post

“I used to think this was the beginning of your story,” Louise seems to be thinking out loud. We see flashbacks of a baby… then of Louise playing with her daughter Hannah in the yard with a lake in the background. Louise remembers the teenage love-hate years. And she remembers the end, too… at Hannah’s bedside in the hospital. “I knew it was the end. But now I’m not so sure.” She goes on… “There are days that define your story… like the day they arrived.” Louise is teaching her class… which is oddly nearly empty. Her specialty is linguistics… not just using languages, but the conceptual nature of languages… like how the nature of one’s language influences how we view the world. But today, no one in class seems focused. “Turn on the TV.”

“Montana is on complete lockdown.” Before long there are 12 large UFOs all over planet earth. No signs of contact yet… just these giant black ovals hovering. It takes 2 days for Colonel Webber to show up at Louise’s door. He has a tape recording of sounds the aliens have made and wants to know what Louise makes of it. Are they trying to communicate? Is it a language? Louise can’t tell him anything without going to the site. Turns out she’s not the only linguist up for the job. They’re going to Berkley to interview another. “Ask him the Sanskrit word for “war” and it’s translation,” says Louise. The next thing we know, a noisy military helicopter lands on Louise’s lakefront yard to take her to Montana. They’re also bringing a socially awkward physicist named Ian, who seems determined to throw a bunch of math problem at the aliens. The site is a beehive of activity with a labyrinth of military tents serving as a command center. Every 18 hours a passage in the bottom of the leviathan opens and they can go in. Once inside, there’s no gravity and no up or down. But at the end of a long passage, there’s what looks like a large glass window, where humans can meet and attempt to communicate with 2 large heptapods (7-legged creatures).

The military is ill equipped to communicate with “Abbot” and “Costello.” They think in military lingo. Louise is open to communicating in any form Abbot and Costello choose… which turns out to be big inky circles that look like Rorschach tests. With Ian’s help, they manage to start learning words and having a rudimentary dialog. As sci-fi movies go, Arrival is not so much about dramatic special effects. It’s more about the psychological challenge of readjusting your thinking to a different reality. The film doesn’t merely show us… it instead takes us on a journey in which we ourselves find we have to readjust our thinking. Your relationship with the film won’t end when you walk out of the theater because it takes some reflection to recalibrate the meaning of different plot points. The art of the performances and the filmmaking in general is to take us on 2 separate journeys with the appearance of a single journey. “Ask them what their purpose on earth is,” Colonel Webber insists. Louise will eventually have to convince world leaders that language isn’t merely the first weapon of conflict.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

The government enlists a renowned linguist to figure out how to communicate with aliens

Popcorn Profile

Rated: PG 13
Audience: Young adults
Gender Style: Neutral
Distribution: Mainstream Wide Release 
Mood: Neutral
Tempo: Zips Right Along
Visual Style: Computer effects
Nutshell: Communicating with aliens
Language: True to life
Social Significance: Thought provoking

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